BBC head defends license fee as critical for quality

LONDON Mon Feb 24, 2014 6:40am EST

A pedestrian walks past a BBC logo at Broadcasting House in central London October 22, 2012. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

A pedestrian walks past a BBC logo at Broadcasting House in central London October 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Olivia Harris

LONDON (Reuters) - The head of the BBC, Tony Hall, will defend the British broadcaster's use of a license fee paid by the public this week as a debate over funding escalates following a spate of scandals over mismanagement and waste at the corporation.

Hall, who took over as director general at the BBC last April, will use a speech in Oxford on Wednesday to dismiss calls by some critics for the 3.7 billion pound ($6 billion) a year license fee to be shared with other broadcasters.

Every UK household with a television pays 145.50 pounds a year to the BBC but this agreement ends late in 2016 and the government has to negotiate a new 10-year deal with the corporation in a climate of austerity as Britain seeks to rein in its budget deficit.

With the BBC's reputation battered over the past 18 months, critics including some ex-senior BBC executives have suggested alternative funding, such as sharing the license fee with other broadcasters, advertising, or outsourcing to the private sector.

But Hall will argue that sharing, or "top-slicing", the license fee would weaken the BBC and UK broadcasters generally and negatively impact the quality of content.

"The fragmentation of the license fee risks de-stabilizing a broadcasting model that works," Hall will tell the Oxford Media Convention according to notes released by the BBC.

"By weakening the BBC, you also weaken the competitive intensity that underpins the success of UK broadcasting."

Hall will note that his battle to protect the license fee after 2016 is no longer about whether to scrap the system.

"Instead of saying that the license fee is so bad that no one should have it, (critics) have begun to suggest the license fee is so good that everyone should have it," Hall will say.

But Hall will also make it clear that the BBC needs to continue to justify the public money it receives. Political oversight of the BBC has grown recently, with management called before several parliamentary hearings in the past year.

Although the BBC has made savings, he will stress the corporation needs to look harder if the public are to be 100 percent confident of getting the best value for money.

Public confidence in the BBC has suffered over the past 18 months in a series of controversies.

They included the handling of a child sex scandal involving former TV host Jimmy Savile, a row over large severance payments to executives, a failed 100 million pound digital project, and reports of workplace bullying.

A YouGov survey earlier this month found 42 percent of respondents thought the BBC offered good value for money, down one percentage point from July last year, while an unchanged 48 percent said it did not. The rest did not know.

About a third of respondents said the BBC should continue to be funded by a license fee but another third said commercial advertising should fund the corporation.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; editing by Stephen Addison)

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Comments (1)
irish_mike wrote:
The BBC has a very sucessful commercial arm so to say that it would hurt programming etc is just wrong. Might improve lot more of it in fact. Also every household in the country knows were in tough economic times so why isn’t the BBC facing the same government cuts in the form of a reduced licence fee. Also more importantly a major reason why it should go down in price is what the BBC has failed to acknowledge, is that digital switchover has alreadly happened as we know, yet the BBC was given an increased fee years ago to pay for this. It was told it overcharged and should have returned them millions back to licence fee payers, did it? Did it reduce the licence fee now that it no longer has to pay for an upcoming switchover?
Also the transmitters which are now owned by a private company who in my area in N.Ireland, which just happens to be also the second city have failed to upgrade our transmitter like many others in the UK, so we get an unequal service, known as freeview lite. Were was the investment here from our licence fees if we have the same low powered transmitter as before?
Its also a very wasteful organization like the recent scrapped but very expensive new IT system scandal highlighted. Time its forced to really tighten its purse strings and really made to give value for money on the only solution a reduced fee. However in this day and age its time to just scrap that system all together. If people want to continue paying for BBC content then let them take subscription fees for it but why force it on the rest of us even if we don’t want to watch the BBC. Seriously how can you call that value for money if you dont want it but are forced to pay for it even just to watch its competitors instead. Where is the EU laws on anti-competitiveness now when you need them.

Feb 26, 2014 9:08am EST  --  Report as abuse
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